Trump and his gen­er­als

En­trust­ing national se­cu­rity to mil­i­tary pros is a win for the coun­try

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY - By Vic­tor Davis Han­son

Don­ald Trump earned re­spect from the Wash­ing­ton es­tab­lish­ment for ap­point­ing three of the na­tion’s most ac­com­plished gen­er­als to di­rect his national se­cu­rity pol­icy: James Mat­tis (sec­re­tary of de­fense), H.R. Mc­Mas­ter (national se­cu­rity ad­viser) and John Kelly (sec­re­tary of home­land se­cu­rity).

In the first five months of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, the three gen­er­als — along with Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son, the for­mer ExxonMo­bil CEO — have al­ready re­cal­i­brated Amer­ica’s de­fenses.

At home, il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion is down by some 70 per­cent. Abroad, a new pol­icy of prin­ci­pled re­al­ism seeks to re-es­tab­lish de­ter­rence through cred­i­ble threats of re­tal­i­a­tion. The gen­er­als are re­pair­ing old friend­ships with al­lies and neu­trals while warn­ing tra­di­tional en­e­mies not to press their luck.

Pres­i­dent Trump has turned over most of the de­tails of mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions to his gen­er­als. Ac­cord­ing to his crit­ics, Mr. Trump is im­prop­erly out­sourc­ing to his gen­er­als both strate­gic de­ci­sion-mak­ing and its tac­ti­cal im­ple­men­ta­tion. But is Mr. Trump re­ally do­ing that? In his cam­paign, Mr. Trump vowed to avoid new ground wars while not los­ing those he in­her­ited. He pledged to wipe out ISIS and rad­i­cal Is­lamic ter­ror­ism with­out in­vad­ing Mid­dle East­ern coun­tries to turn them into democ­ra­cies.

Those are wide but none­the­less un­mis­tak­able pa­ram­e­ters.

Within them, the U.S. mil­i­tary can drop a huge bomb on the Tal­iban, strike the chem­i­cal weapons de­pots of Syria’s Bashar As­sad, or choose the sort of ships it will use to de­ter North Korean ag­gres­sion — with­out Mr. Trump por­ing over a map, or hec­tor­ing Gen. Mat­tis or Gen. Mc­Mas­ter about what par­tic­u­lar move is

Lib­er­als want the gen­er­als to leak to the press and hint that Mr. Trump is a dunce.

po­lit­i­cally ap­pro­pri­ate or might poll well. Other pres­i­dents have done the same. A wartime Pres­i­dent Lincoln — up for re-elec­tion in 1864 — wanted the tot­ter­ing Con­fed­er­acy in­vaded and hu­mil­i­ated. But he had no idea that Gen. Wil­liam Te­cum­seh Sherman would in­ter­pret that vague wish as nearly de­stroy­ing At­lanta, and then cut­ting his sup­ply lines to march across Ge­or­gia to the sea at Sa­van­nah.

When Sherman pulled off the March to the Sea, Lincoln con­fessed that he had been wrongly skep­ti­cal of, to­tally sur­prised and ut­terly de­lighted with Sherman’s vic­to­ries. He then left it to Sherman and Gen. Ulysses S. Grant to plan the fi­nal cam­paign of the war.

Had Sherman lost his army in the wilds of Ge­or­gia, no doubt Lincoln would have re­lieved him, as he did so many of his other failed gen­er­als.

Pres­i­dent Franklin D. Roo­sevelt de­manded a cross-chan­nel in­va­sion of France by mid-1944. He did not worry much about how it was to be im­ple­mented.

The gen­er­als and ad­mi­rals of his Joint Chiefs han­dled Roo­sevelt’s wish by del­e­gat­ing the job to Gen. Dwight D. Eisen­hower and his An­glo-Amer­i­can staff.

Had Eisen­hower failed on the Nor­mandy beaches, Roo­sevelt likely would have fired him and oth­ers.

Other crit­ics com­plain that dec­o­rated he­roes such as Gens. Mat­tis, Mc­Mas­ter and Kelly should not stoop to work for a fire­brand like Mr. Trump. The very op­po­site is true. Anti-New Deal­ers such as Repub­li­cans Henry Stim­son and Frank Knox served in the Roo­sevelt ad­min­is­tra­tion to en­sure national unity and ex­per­tise dur­ing World War II — in much the same man­ner that old Ge­orge W. Bush hand Robert Gates stayed on as sec­re­tary of de­fense to ad­vise for­eign pol­icy novice Barack Obama.

Mr. Trump en­tered of­fice with no for­mal po­lit­i­cal or mil­i­tary ex­pe­ri­ence. That does not mean his busi­ness skills and in­nate cun­ning are not crit­i­cal in set­ting national se­cu­rity pol­icy — only that he ben­e­fits from the wise coun­sel of vet­er­ans.

The pa­tri­otic duty for men the cal­iber of these three gen­er­als was to step for­ward and serve their com­man­der in chief — and thereby en­sure that the coun­try would have proven pro­fes­sion­als car­ry­ing out the pres­i­dent’s re­cal­i­bra­tions.

Of course, there must be ten­sions be­tween the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, its Demo­cratic op­po­nents and the largely apo­lit­i­cal Gens. Mat­tis, Mc­Mas­ter and Kelly, who have en­joyed high com­mands under both Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic ad­min­is­tra­tions.

Lib­er­als want the gen­er­als to leak to the press and hint that Mr. Trump is a dunce whose blun­ders force wise men like them­selves to clean up the mess.

Repub­li­cans pre­fer the three to get on board the Trump team and ap­point only con­ser­va­tives who will res­onate ad­min­is­tra­tion val­ues.

In truth, Mr. Trump and his gen­er­als share a quid pro quo re­la­tion­ship that so far has worked.

Gens. Mat­tis, Mc­Mas­ter and Kelly must know that few other pres­i­dents would have taken the heat to en­trust three mil­i­tary men to guide national se­cu­rity pol­icy. And even if an­other pres­i­dent did, he might not em­power them with any­thing like their pres­i­dent lat­i­tude.

In that re­gard, the three gen­er­als are be­holden to Mr. Trump for a his­toric op­por­tu­nity to shape Amer­ica’s se­cu­rity pos­ture in ways im­pos­si­ble dur­ing the last half-cen­tury.

On the other hand, Mr. Trump must rec­og­nize that such gen­er­als lend cred­i­bil­ity to his role as com­man­der in chief and sig­nal that he is wise enough to value merit over pol­i­tics.

At least for now, it is a win-win-win so­lu­tion for Mr. Trump, the gen­er­als — and the coun­try.

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